Mature woodland needs thinning to allow regeneration.
NATURE NOTES Left to its own devices the interior of deciduous woodland will grow darker and darker over the years.
The tops of the mature trees mingle to form a dense canopy, shading out the sunlight from the lower levels and, as a result, the plants growing on the woodland floor die off, leaving a layer of bare leaf litter.
Regeneration of the woodland slows down because the seedling trees have insufficient light to sustain growth. The woodland becomes what is known as 'over-mature’ and the diversity of species goes into decline.
For hundreds of years, however, humanity has intervened in this process. Most deciduous woodland was traditionally cut down to ground level in selected patches, a bit at a time each year, and the stumps left to regenerate. This is called coppicing and produces a timber crop used for firewood, charcoal manufacture, tool handles and fencing.
A side effect of this commercial activity is that sunlight pours into the newly cut patches of woodland, regenerating seedlings and flowering plants. So managed woodland is much more diverse in terms of species than one left untended.
However, once in a while nature itself intervenes to regenerate over-mature woodland and it was just such an event that took place on the Island 25 years ago this month. On the night of October 15, 1987, a great storm tore through the Island, uprooting thousands of trees and causing extensive damage to property. For our woods it seemed like a disaster at first, but over the next few years we saw vigorous regeneration as the newly admitted sunlight stimulated rapid growth of seedlings and flowering plants.
In some of our woods today, you can see windblown trees still lying horizontal from that event. Some — sweet chestnuts in particular — are still very much alive continuing to draw nourishment from what’s left of their root balls and displaying secondary vertical trunks — now 25 years old — at right angles to the original stem.
Why not have a look at some examples which you can see from the public footpaths in Beech Copse at Godshill, where this photograph was taken.
Of course the hurricane did not only affect the Island, and all over the south of England the effects are still visible. Large swathes of West Sussex, for example, are covered by new plantations, some of which took several years to establish because of the vast amount of lying timber which had to be cleared away first.
Many people have stories to tell about that event, and particularly the days afterwards when the task of removing fallen trees and repairing damage must have seemed endless.
And anyone who experienced it will never forget the name of Michael Fish, the unfortunate weather-forecaster that evening, who was unaware of the impending onslaught!